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14 July, 2004

Viking discovery - shhhh!

Aftenposten reports that when a landowner in Norway discovered the remains of a 1,000-year-old (i.e. Viking-era) pier off land in Frosta, Nord-Trøndelag, rather than thanking him for reporting it to archaeologists, the authorities hit him with a bill for Kr 100,000 (£7,850 or US $14,550) to secure the area.  On appeal, that was reduced to Kr 40,000 (£3,150), as 'the landowner's contribution towards excavation costs'.

That's awful, and can only discourage others from reporting archaeological discoveries.  Anecdotal evidence suggests that Norwegian landowners are already less than diligent in reporting finds (a number of inscribed stones have been spotted in farm walls) but this could lead to the deliberate concealment or even destruction of relics.

This is the sort of thing I do think should be funded by the state, and this stance is particularly surprising in Norway, where the state is considerably more interventionist in daily life (high taxation for impressive social provision) than here in the UK.

One complication might be ownership of any discoveries. If the landowner had found Viking jewellery at the site (thought to be part of a ferry terminal built for dignitaries), and was permitted to keep it, there might be a case for demanding a contribution to archaeological costs. In the UK, I believe the state would bear all such costs, but the law of treasure trove means that valuable finds automatically belong to the nation, not to the finder or landowner.

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